As you walk in to Suyama Space, you are faced with a big, torn-up, black wall. It looks like a huge flock of birds flew through it into the gallery and then crashed into the back walls, leaving behind almost cartoonish white splats in the otherwise neat and tidy architects’ offices adjacent to the space.
Each white splat is a series of feathery marks that seem to flutter frantically around a deeper white central hit, in a material that’s not paint but gypsum dust—the dust that fell when the black wall was smashed. Artist Stephen B. Nguyen bought pigeon feathers, dipped them in the dust, then slapped them against the black surface of the wall to create these intricately detailed marks. They could be wiped away in an instant.
There is nothing on the floor now. The dust, the presumed dead birds, any traces of the crash, have been cleaned up, leaving only the walls to tell the stories. In contrast to the fragile dust marks, the wounds of the back side of the torn-up wall are violent, gaping, obscene. The exploded skin of the wall and its twisted metal innards bring to mind two associations: that unbearably graphic shot to JFK’s head, and J.G. Ballard’s Crash. (This gallery once was an automobile shop and still bears the shop’s faint letters on its wood beams.)
But this installation is not a portrait of a single bird, car, or politician—it marks a group tragedy, a collective force fatally misdirected, the phenomenon of collective stupidity and helplessness. It’s gorgeous and unthinkable.